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Project RastkoHistory of Serb culture
TIA Janus

Mihailo Bjelica

Journalism and publicist writing

Chapter from the book
"The history of Serbian Culture"
The history of Serbian culture  


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The history of Serbian periodicals started with the magazine "Slaveno- serbski magazin" ("Slavo-Serbian Magazine"), which was printed in Venice in 1768. The founder and the editor of this magazine was Zaharije Orfelin, one of the best educated Serbs of that time, a writer, historian, painter, engraver and the publisher of the first periodical and "Perpetual Almanac". He was educated and learned the trades in Pest, Vienna and Venice, and he worked and lived in the Serbian milieu, in Sremski Karlovci, Novi Sad and in other places in what was southern Hungary at the time.

Although the "Slaveno-serbski magazin" produced only one issue, it can be regarded as the beginning of Serbian publicist writing, too. In its foreword, written by Orfelin, the relevant questions of cultural life among the Serbs were discussed and certain ideas and programmes were introduced. This foreword, printed on thirteen pages of the publication, has been evaluated by historians as being a very significant text, in which the doctrines of European eighteenth century Rationalism and the Enlightenment were presented in the Serbian language for the first time.

The first newspaper in Serbian also appeared outside the territory of what is today Serbia, in Vienna in 1791 ("Serbskija povsednevnija novini" - "Serbian Daily Newspaper"). The first Serbian journal ("Novine serbske" - "Serbian Newspaper"), 1813) and the first Serbian illustrated periodical ("Zabavnik" - "Pictorial Magazine", 1816) were also published in the capital of the Austrian Empire. Several significant Serbian journals and periodicals were issued in Pest in the first half of the nineteenth century. The first one was the "Letopis Matice srpske" ("The Chronicle of Matica srpska"), which was started in 1825, and is still being published as one of the oldest literary periodicals in Europe.

In the territory of what is today the Republic of Serbia, newspapers have been coming out since 1834, first in Kragujevac, which was the capital of Prince Milos, soon afterwards in Belgrade, and some time later in Novi Sad, Sremski Karlovci, Zemun, Sombor, Vrsac, Pancevo and Prishtina. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Serbian magazines appeared in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1866), Montenegro (1871) and Croatia (1874) and at the end of the century Serbian immigrants in North America started publishing their newspapers.

On the eve of the Balkan Wars, in 1911, 252 Serbian magazines and periodicals altogether were being published, 152 of them in the Kingdom of Serbia (105 just in Belgrade), 41 in Vojvodina, 19 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 12 in Croatia, 3 in Montenegro, 3 in Macedonia, 17 in the USA, 5 in the other parts of Austro-Hungary and one in Canada.

A great number of people of different professions and specialisations - journalists, politicians, teachers, scientists, priests, officers, students and pupils - worked on editing, publishing and writing all these publications. In this short text something will be said only about the most significant ones, which had the strongest influence on the development of Serbian journalism and publicist writing before World War I.

Besides Zaharije Orfelin, who remained an isolated phenomenon in his time, the most important name in Serbian journalism is certanly Dimitrije Davidovic, the publisher and editor of Serbian newspapers in Vienna and the editor of the first newspapers in Serbia. One could say that his Vienna newspapers were, for some ten years, the main cultural centre around which the Serbian educated classes of that time gathered. The most productive contributor in that rather small circle was Vuk Karadzic, the reformer of Serbian literary language and alphabet, who published his works including his polemical writings in Davidovic's newspapers.

As the editor of the first newspapers in the Principality of Serbia, Davidovic is given all the credit which founders of the national press deserve. Taking the best European newspapers of that time as models, he published a modern informative- political newspaper in Serbia, which was still liberating itself from feudal Turkish rule. Davidovic was not satisfied with publishing just official news and reports, as the government asked him to, but he also tried to give his own opinion about events. Although he was removed from journalism because of that, his newspaper served as a model for welledited magazines for a long time.

The revolutionary wave which spread over Europe in 1848 had a great influence on the development of Serbian journalism, especially in Vojvodina. After the fall of Metternich's absolutism and the suspension of censorship in the Austrian monarchy, the national question became a leading theme of the Serbian press. Political editorials and reports of correspondents prevailed in the newspapers instead of professional articles in installments. The best representative of this new brand of journalism was the newspaper "Napredak" ("Progress"), which was being published during the revolution, in Sremski Karlovci and in Zemun. Its Editor-In-Chief was Danilo Medakovic, who got his doctoral degree in philosophy in Berlin and was a collaborator on several European newspapers. According to Jovan Skerlic, the first historian of Serbian press, "Progress" was a "decisively national newspaper", which occasionally supported progressive European ideas.

A crucial event in the political life of Serbia and in political publicist writing as well, was the St. Andrew's Assembly, which was held in Belgrade at the end of 1858. The battle of the bourgeoisie and liberal intelligentsia for constitutionality and parliamentarism started with it. After the Assembly two basic political streams were formed, the liberal and the conservative, which fought between themselves for influence among the people through the newspapers. Prince Milos, who was already growing old, occasionally supported liberals and occasionally conservatives, to finally come to rely on the conservatives. It is important that both sides had a chance to present their ideas and programme. The foundations of modern Serbian publicist writing were laid down in that short period (1859). The most eminent journalists were the writer Matija Ban, on the side of conservatives, and the politician Vladimir Jovanovic, on the side of liberals.

The political press in Serbia started developing more rapidly after the adoption of the first law on the press (1870), which made it possible for the newspapers to be published more easily and limited the power of censorship. Among the newly started newspapers, the most significant one was "Radenik" ("Worker", Belgrade, 1871-1872), the first socialist newspaper not only in Serbia, but in the Balkans as well. "Radenik" entered public and political life very aggressively - it immediately started criticising the regime in Serbia and propagating the revolutionary ideas of the Commune of Paris, which all created a great disturbance in public life. Svetozar Markovic, who was the founder and editor of the newspaper, possessed all the qualities of a great journalist: a broad education, easiness in expressing himself, intelligible style, the capability of observing the main social problems and the courage to criticize them. Thanks to those abilities in the first place, he managed to create a whole new political movement.

The further development of publicist writing was influenced by the formation of political parties in Serbia in 1881. Instead of the former division between liberals and conservatives, a new grouping took place - into radicals, progressives, liberals and socialists. All parties used the press as a means of political propaganda and the editorial offices were the main centres of party life. This type of press created a whole corps of skilled journalists, among which the most eminent was Pera Todorovic, an unsurpassed polemicist and reporter.

The beginning of the twentieth century was characterised by the rise of the daily press. Thirteen daily newspapers were published in Belgrade in 1904. The oldest one was the official "Srpske novine" ("Serbian Newspaper"), and the youngest one "Politika" ("Politics") which was started that same year by the brothers Vladislav and Darko Ribnikar. The appearance of "Politika" was an important event in Serbian journalism. With its principled attitude concerning the most important issues of internal and foreign politics and its balanced and refined way of writing, it stood out in the political press in general, which was steeped in party controversies and quarrels. Better than any other newspaper, "Politika" discovered the taste of the intellectual reading public at that time and very soon became the most prominent and most widely read Serbian newspaper.

Naturally, publicist writing was not reduced to writing newspaper texts. Publishing booklets about important political and other questions was very well developed in Serbia. Among numerous authors of those booklets two names should be singled out: Vasa Pelagic, in the second half of the nineteenth century, and Dragisa Lapcevic, in the first decades of this century. Their biographers calculated that Pelagic wrote more than fifty booklets, and Lapcevic one hundred and fifty. They both belonged to the socialist movement, addressed the masses and were in conflict with both official policy and with the dogmatic ideas in their parties.

According to incomplete bibliographical data (published in 1956), some 2500 newspapers and periodicals were being edited in Serbia in the period between the two world wars, which also includes Yugoslav publications and the press of national minorities. In the same period 295 periodicals in Serbian were being published in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 91 in Macedonia, 75 in Montenegro and 45 in Croatia. Besides that, some 200 newspapers and periodicals were being published by Serbs in foreign countries, mostly in the USA (132).

The work on gathering bibliographical and statistical data about the Serbian press is not yet finished. The editorial board of the periodical "Novinarski letopis" ("Journalistic Chronicle") has a list of 4890 Serbian newspapers and periodicals which were published between 1768 and 1991. Outside the territory of the former Yugoslavia 495 newspapers and periodicals have been published: 243 in Europe, 172 in North America, 54 in South America, 14 in Australia, 5 in Asia, 4 in Africa and 3 in New Zealand.

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